Social Biases in Our Society

Published 28 Jul 2017

Just how powerful can social bias be in influencing a person’s thoughts and his actions? Are social injustices such as discrimination, stereotyping, and prejudice enough for a person to decide against his morals to commit a crime, or even a murder? Perhaps the incident involving a 15-year old in March of 2001 will prove to be sufficient for an answer.

Charles Williams, of Santee, California, shot to death two of his high school classmates and wounded 13 others, in a shooting later confirmed as related to hate crimes by the authorities (Anti-Defamation League, 2001, p. 2). As stated by his classmates during an investigation, they had said that Charles, a skinny and short freshman, was often the attention of ridicules and bullies of the other guys.

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In a study by the National Education Association, they have found out that majority of the hate crimes are committed by those twenty years old and younger. In a particular study NEA had done in Chicago in 1992, it was revealed that in over 534 cases of hate crimes, 60% were committed by the said age-group (ADL, 2001, p. 2). In the apparent search for answers to this tragic reality, we are left to question the reasons for the proliferation in our culture of these social biases, which causes the most numbers of fatal hate crimes being committed by the youth.

Social Biases

The Anti-Defamation League defines discrimination as, “the denial of justice and fair treatment by both individuals and institutions in many areas, such as employment, education, housing, banking, and political rights” (ADL, 2001, p. 9). Its false ideals are founded on the superiority of a certain race, religion, or social class against another or a group of others belonging to a certain class. It can be observed evidently on the various sectors of society, be it in schools, corporations, politics, even in some restaurants, and in other institutions.

Prejudice is basically pre-judging; according to ADL, it may be defined as “making a decision about a person or group of people without sufficient knowledge. Prejudicial thinking is frequently based on stereotypes” (ADL, 2001, p. 9). An example would be how a society, in general, treats ex-convicts with mistrust, and the seeming prejudice of the general society to all criminally-accused as already-proven guilty.

Another form of bias as defined by the ADL is stereotype; it is “the oversimplified generalization on a person or a group of people without regard for individual differences. Even seemingly positive forms of this can have negative consequences” (ADL, 2001, p. 9). An evident form of this type is the stereotyping of people wearing eyeglasses as nerds; another is the stereotyping of those who excel in sports as being unintelligent.

Subtle and Blatant Bias

A thin line separates subtle than that of a blatant bias. Its meanings share a common ground in its tenet and practice, that making a distinct separation would prove taxing. However, certain conditions make the distinction clear enough for us to make comparisons, and delve deeper into these two topics.

Subtle bias often functions in the unconscious level. People experiencing this show signs of sympathy to the aggrieved parties, are supportive of the ideas of equality, and consider themselves as non-biased people. However, they also bear ill feelings towards other minority groups. This type of bias is believed to be common with most of the well-educated American whites in the United States (Loewenstein, p. 1), as compared to the blatant type of bias which is characterized by direct and overt expressions of discrimination. A study done on this topic revealed that, a bystander who is the lone witness to an accident will help the victim regardless of his race. However, when there are multiple witnesses to the accident, he would be less likely to help the victim if he is of a different race (Loewenstein, p. 1).

People who are victims of bias will tend to be less productive than what they are actually capable of achieving. There is an absence of a feeling of acceptance to a particular group where he belongs, resulting from covert and often overt manifestations of other people’s hatred towards the person belonging to a minority. This situation at times results in violent and fatal reactions from the individual, as we have witnessed with Charles Williams, when the person is driven to the limits of his temperament and personal morals (ADL, 2001, p. 2).

Authorities have suggested a means of overcoming bias in society: through ways aimed at the root causes both at the individual and group levels. At an individual level, techniques may be aimed at the incognizant level, by ways such as broad-ranging educational guides to construct new, anti-bias preconceptions towards a social group, such as Blacks, Hispanics, etc. The introduction of such new anti-bias associations, plus the awareness of their propensity for discrimination had been shown to encourage self-regulatory progressions that would eventually result in, with ample time and experience, the lessening of negative values and mind-sets (Loewenstein, p. 3).

On a group level, the use of the Common In-Group Identity Model had shown potentials of eliminating prejudiced thinking. In this technique, members from various social classes are grouped into a single ordinate core, thus eliminating the they and replacing it with we perceptions (Loewenstein, p. 3), hence discouraging the contributing factors to various forms of bias, discrimination, and racism.


  • 101 Ways to Combat Prejudice (2001). Anti-Defamation League. New York, New York 10017 U.S.A: Anti-Defamation League.
  • Loewenstein, H. Aversive Racism-Subtle Bias, Combating Aversive Racism. Encyclopedia
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